Feds extend comment period on red knot status

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photo by Gregory Breese/USFWS Red knots fly thousands of miles each year, including an annual stop at the Delaware Bay to feast on horseshoe crab eggs. MIDDLE TOWNSHIP – The annual migration of the red knot is about a month away, and this year the birds' trek to shores of the Delaware Bay will coincide with a federal agency's consideration to add the shorebird to the threatened species list.

On Tuesday, April 1, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reopened the public comment period for the rufa red knot threatened species listing proposal, after the agency received three requests last year to hold public hearings.

The initial comment period ended last November.

Krishna Gifford, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said that two of the requests for public hearings came from state agencies. A third was from a private citizen.

“We're reopening the public comment period until May 19,” Gifford said. “We're on schedule to make final decision on the listing of the red knot on Sept. 30, 2014.”

As the candidate and classification coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gifford assists field offices in evaluating whether species should be added to or removed from the list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.

“We received requests for public hearings from the Texas Comptrollers Office of Public Accounts and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission,” Gifford said. By law, she said, the service is required to hold a public hearing if requested.

Both public hearings will be held May 6, Gifford said. One hearing is in Morehead City, N.C. The other is in Corpus Christi, Texas.

The rufa red knot is a robin-sized shorebird that annually migrates from the Canadian Arctic to southern Argentina.

On the Jersey Cape, they are best known for their arrival on Delaware Bay beaches just as horseshoe crabs begin laying their eggs. Naturalists say the rich eggs give the birds the boost they need to finish their 9,000-mile flight.

New Jersey angered some commercial fishermen by banning collecting horseshoe crabs in 1998.There remain tight restrictions on their collection, primarily aimed at protecting the food source for red knots.

“The rufa red knot is an extraordinary bird that each year migrates thousands of miles from the Arctic to the tip of South America and back, but – like many shorebirds – it is vulnerable to climate and other environmental changes,” said Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“In some areas, knot populations have declined by about 75 percent since the 1980s, with the steepest declines happening after 2000. We look forward to hearing from the public with any new scientific information as we consider the proposal.”

According the agency, biologists with the Service have determined that the knot meets the definition of threatened, meaning it is likely to become in danger of extinction in the future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

The red knot, whose range includes 25 countries and 40 U.S. states, uses spring and fall stopover areas along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Changing climate conditions, the service said, have affected the bird’s food supply, the timing of its migration and its breeding habitat in the Arctic.

During the initial comment period in 2013, the service received more than 560 individual comments and 19,000 form letters.

“If someone has already commented, there's no need to resubmit them,” Gifford said. “We have those comments, and we'll consider those with the new ones.”

To make a comment on listing the red knot as a threatened species, see www.regulations.gov and follow the instructions for submitting information on docket number FWS–R5–ES–2013–0097.

Comments may also be mailed to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R5–ES–2013–0097; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, Va. 22203.

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